Advice on how to become a health coach: a paid patient care experience for pre-PA and pre-med students

Are you a pre-PA or pre-med student looking for entry-level clinical experience? This is one in a series of posts describing an entry-level clinical position that would “count” as paid patient care experience. 

Job Description and Tasks:

Health coaches provide individualized support and guidance to help people make lifestyle changes that improve their health. They can be members of an integrative health team and partner with patients to clarify goals and identify strategies to meet them.  They should only provide general wellness and nutrition information, options, recommendations, guidance, motivation, and skill-building to establish healthier lifestyle routines to reach personal health goals. Most importantly is that the client sets his or her own goals and drives the process to achieve lasting wellness changes. A health coach is a professional who assists individuals in achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Their primary role is to educate, motivate, and support clients in making positive changes to their overall well-being. 

The job tasks of a health coach typically include:

1. Conducting assessments: Health coaches evaluate clients’ current health status, lifestyle habits, and goals to develop personalized plans.

2. Goal setting: They collaborate with clients to establish realistic health goals and create action plans to achieve them.

3. Providing guidance: Health coaches offer guidance and information on nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep, and other aspects of health and wellness.

4. Offering motivation and support: They act as a source of motivation, providing ongoing support and accountability to help clients stay on track.

5. Tracking progress: Health coaches monitor clients’ progress, track metrics, and adjust strategies as needed.

6. Educating clients: They deliver health-related education through workshops, classes, or one-on-one sessions.

7. Advocating for clients: Health coaches advocate for their clients’ needs and help them navigate healthcare systems when necessary.

8. Referring to other professionals: They may refer clients to other healthcare providers or specialists for specialized care or treatment.

Patient Population:

Health coaches work with diverse populations, including individuals seeking general health improvement, weight management, stress reduction, chronic disease prevention, and lifestyle modification. They may also specialize in specific areas such as diabetes management, nutrition, fitness, or mental health.

Practice Settings:

Health coaches can work in various settings, including:

1. Private practice: They establish their own coaching business and work independently with clients.

2. Healthcare facilities: Health coaches may be employed by hospitals, clinics, or wellness centers to work alongside other healthcare professionals.

3. Corporate wellness programs: Many companies employ health coaches to promote employee well-being and improve workplace health initiatives.

4. Fitness centers or gyms: Health coaches may offer their services within fitness establishments to support clients in achieving their fitness and wellness goals.

5. Online platforms: Some health coaches provide virtual coaching services through online platforms or apps, offering convenience and accessibility to clients.


The salary of a health coach can vary depending on factors such as experience, education, location, and the work setting. According to available data, the average annual salary for health coaches in the United States ranges from $35,000 to $70,000. However, it’s important to note that salaries can vary significantly based on individual circumstances.

Training and Certification Process:

Health coaches can be certified through private credentialing bodies but do not require a state license to practice as long as they do not engage in regulated activities. Although laws regulate dietetics in 21 states, Health coaches can provide a wide array of health and wellness services regardless of their state’s dietetic practice law. A state license is not, per se, required to provide health coaching services. 

While specific requirements can vary, the following steps are typically involved in becoming a health coach:

1. Education: Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent. Although not mandatory, a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field (e.g., nutrition, exercise science, psychology) can be beneficial.

2. Training program: Complete a health coaching training program accredited by a recognized organization or institution. These programs provide in-depth knowledge of coaching techniques, behavior change theories, nutrition, exercise, and other relevant topics. Various organizations and academic institutions offer approved training programs from certificate programs to Master’s degrees. The duration of training for a certificate program is approximately 14 weeks. 

National Society of Health Coaches Online training 

Northwestern Health Sciences University Certificate – Online program 

Emory University Health and Wellness Coaching Certificate Program – Hybrid 20-week program

3. Practical experience: Gain hands-on experience by working with clients under the supervision of a qualified health coach or mentor.

4. Certification: Obtain certification from a reputable health coaching organization. The National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) approves health coach training and education programs. There are multiple health coach certification agencies but the two largest are the ACE (American Council on Exercise) and the NSHC (National Society of Health Coaches). 

In order to become certified you need to:

5. Continuing education: Maintain and expand your knowledge and skills through continuing education programs, workshops, conferences, and relevant courses.

Certification requirements can vary among organizations but typically involve completing specific training hours, passing an exam, and fulfilling continuing education credits to maintain certification status. It’s advisable to research and choose a reputable certification program that aligns with your career goals and meets industry standards.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Health Coach for Pre-PA and Pre-med Students

Health coaches play a role in addressing our nation’s healthcare crisis by creating lasting, positive, and individually tailored changes in clients’ lives. Health coaching is an excellent way to develop a strong relationship with a patient and begin to learn and practice motivational interviewing which is an important tool for your future practice of medicine. You should clarify the setting and team you will be working with – if you are not in a clinical setting you may not be exposed to PA or MD/DO shadowing.

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